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Despair at American Passivity Sparks a 'Most Outrageous' List

February 09, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

Several weeks ago, a Times editorial deplored the disappearance of individual outrage in our society. The immediate catalyst was the enormous federal deficit, but the comment covered a myriad of other public aberrations that we seem to accept almost passively these days.

About the same time, Walter Cronkhite made a speech introducing former Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.), who was receiving a "Spirit of Liberty" award in New York. At the last minute, Cronkhite threw out his prepared speech and spoke with extemporaneous passion about Americans "who find their voices stilled by not-so-subtle ideological intimidation."

"For instance," he said, "we know that unilateral military action in Grenada and Tripoli was wrong. We know that 'Star Wars' means uncontrollable escalation of the arms race. We know that the real threat to democracy is half the nation in poverty. . . . We know that religious beliefs cannot define patriotism. . . . And we know there is freedom to disagree with all or part of what I've just said. But Godawmighty, we've got to shout these truths in which we believe from the rooftops."

I've watched this passivity in Americans with growing despair over my lifetime. The only voices we seem to hear these days are the organized lobbies grinding a single ax--the gun advocates, the Right-to-Lifers, the gay-baiters. We've just witnessed a presidential election in which one candidate had to separate himself from the American Civil Liberties Union--almost as if it were treasonous--and found his patriotism questioned because he was associated with principles that have long been a bulwark in American society.

Thinking on these matters, I have come up with my own outrage list. This is mine. I don't foist it on anyone else. but I firmly believe that a resurgence in strength in this country depends directly on individuals--not pressure groups--refusing to allow their voices to be stilled any longer by "ideological intimidation."

Today, I find myself outraged by:

* Those who want to stick all of us with a multibillion-dollar bill to bail out savings and loans which went broke mostly because of business practices that almost guaranteed that result. I don't hear any talk about stripping the people who ran those institutions of their own personal wealth before they start putting the bite on the rest of us.

* The knowledge that so many of the same people who would deny choice to an expectant mother are also those who resist sex education in our schools, which would materially reduce the need for abortion.

The crowning case in point is right in Orange County. Two decades ago, Anaheim High School had a sex education program that was a national model. Educators from all over the country came to study it. The program was thrown out by a noisy group of people who claimed that it was an instrument of the devil and a Communist conspiracy. Today, Anaheim has the second-highest ratio of teen-age pregnancy in Orange County--trailing only Santa Ana.

* The enormous bills run up by local police to pay off the victims of excessive police behavior. In a recent 3-year period, that amounted to $314,000 for the citizens of Newport Beach. Orange County taxpayers picked up a $375,000 tab for a lawsuit against Sheriff Brad Gates for electronic spying against his critics, who included a teacher and a local reporter.

* The totally unnecessary and wrong-headed California state tax refund of last year. I just received a notice that I would have to pay income tax on a refund I didn't want and considered absurd. It seems even more absurd in the realization that this money could have been used to fund the social services the governor has cut out of his current budget on the grounds that the state can't afford them.

* The refusal at every level of public officials to advocate or even consider the legalization of drugs as a plan that might very well fail but is at least worthy of consideration in a war we are losing badly.

* The intransigence of the National Rifle Assn. and the spinelessness of legislators who are afraid to take them on. The time has come to legislate gun laws with depth and teeth.

* The Republican honchos in Orange County who restored Thomas A. Fuentes to his job as party chairman despite his involvement in what many see as an attempt to intimidate Latino voters last November and the cries of outrage from other Republican officials throughout the state demanding that Fuentes resign.

I'm just getting warmed up. I could add to this list considerably--and maybe I will. Meanwhile, perhaps my list will inspire a little outrage in others. We need all of it we can get.

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